Two women were standing on high places, shielding their eyes from the blazing sun with their hands, peering into the distance in search of messengers from the battlefield. Each knew that her life depended on the outcome of the battle; but their lives depended on opposite results. -From The Triumph of Deborah, page 1-
The Triumph of Deborah opens with the war between the Canaanites and Israelites. Set in ancient Israel during the historical period of the Judges, the novel is a fictional re-working of the life of Deborah, a powerful prophetess and judge of Israel. According to biblical history, the war between Canaan and Israel lasted forty years. Etzioni-Halevy centers her novel towards the end of this time period.
Following the defeat of Canaan, Barak - a powerful man who leads Deborah’s army - takes as prisoner the beautiful, cold-hearted Asherah, the daughter of the Canann King Jabin. He also provides shelter for Asherah’s half sister (and King Jabin’s illegitimate daughter) Nogah who becomes a maid in Barak’s home. Barak is portrayed as a misogynistic man who seeks carnal pleasure with many women including Deborah, Asherah and Nogah. Interspersed in the romantic plot of the novel is the politics, history and culture of 11th and 12th century Israel.
Etzioni-Halevy has done her research and it shows. She aptly describes the agricultural lifestyle of the times, and introduces the prickly and complex leadership which made up the political structure of this theocracy. The battle scenes and aftermath are vivid and well-written. The central female characters demonstrate simultaneously the lack of women’s rights and the strength and power they managed to wield in a world dominated by men. Women of this time period aspired not only to leadership, but sought to find their own voice through literacy…and the novel’s most convincing moments are those which bring the women characters to life.
Etzioni-Halevy falls short, however, when she seeks to show the reader the intimate relationships between these women and Barak. At times the language feels stilted, awkward and contrived, especially during the love scenes.
Neither her mother nor her father nor Uriel had enlightened her about the pain slicing through her with the rupture of her barrier, receding as the heat unleashed itself in her, seeking an as yet unknown summit, mounting it, erupting into fire and a call of love for him, bringing forth the breaking of his own peak. -from The Triumph of Deborah, page 175-
In fairness to the author, I must admit that the historical romance genre is not one I typically read or enjoy and so when the novel veered in this direction I found it off-putting. What Etzioni-Halevy does best is to create scene and historical context for her characters. and it was this part of the book which piqued my interest.
Readers who prefer biblical fiction and historical romance will most likely enjoy this novel. I am grateful to the author for sending me a copy of her book to review.
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